Aug 6, 2019

Comcast expands low-income internet program

Kim Hart, author of Cities

A Comcast vehicle. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Comcast announced today its largest-ever eligibility expansion for Internet Essentials, the cable giant's program that subsidizes basic broadband service and low-cost computers to help increase adoption for low-income households in the cities Comcast serves.

Why it matters: Households living in cities with the highest poverty rates are up to 10 times more likely than those in higher earning communities to not have access to wireline broadband internet service at home.

According to 2017 census data, rich communities like Palo Alto, California, and Bethesda, Maryland, have only 6% of households without wireline broadband subscriptions. But in cities with higher poverty rates like Trenton, New Jersey, and Flint, Michigan, up to 60% of households do not have wired broadband service to their home.

The big picture: Many low-income households rely on smartphones to access the internet, often because it's cheaper than buying the gear and a computer needed for a home connection.

  • Comcast executive David Cohen said on a call with reporters that a smartphone is not adequate for students trying to complete homework or adults trying to create a resume and apply for jobs.

Details: The program, which began 8 years ago with the merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal, will now be open to seniors and people with disabilities. To date, the program has connected more than 8 million low-income individuals from 2 million households, the company says.

Yes, but: The Internet Essentials service, which costs $10 a month, provides download speeds of 15 megabits per second, which is slower than the FCC's benchmark for broadband (25 megabits per second). Cohen argued that speed is "more than sufficient" for most household needs, and he pointed out Comcast has raised the speeds 4 times over the past 8 years.

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